I have the honour to speak on behalf of the members of the Pacific Islands Forum represented at the United Nations.
As Pacific Islands Forum members the ocean is critical to our economies, our cultures and our environment. At the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands last year, our leaders emphasised that as Large Ocean States Forum Members play a leading role in the management and sustainable development of the Pacific Ocean.
We therefore welcome the opportunity the annual United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP) provides to discuss current issues relating to oceans and sustainable development. This year’s UNICPOLOS topic of ocean acidification is one of particular importance, and particular concern, for Pacific Islands Forum members.
As is clear from the Secretary-General’s report, there is still much to learn about the impact ocean acidification will have on marine organisms, ecosystems and the livelihoods of island peoples. In this regard, Pacific Islands Forum members support the call in the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want” for marine scientific research, monitoring and observation of ocean acidification and particularly vulnerable ecosystems, including through enhanced international cooperation. We must work together to better understand this phenomenon so we can effectively respond to its impacts.
While there is still much to learn about the impacts of ocean acidification on organisms and the marine ecosystem, we can say two things with confidence: the acidity of our oceans is increasing and if left unabated it can pose a real threat to marine ecosystems and livelihoods worldwide.
Although ocean acidification is a global problem, its impact is deeply felt in my region, the Pacific. To provide just one example, the changing chemistry of the oceans is one of the most pressing threats to coral reef ecosystems. Coral reefs are vital to the economic, cultural and social life of many Pacific Islands. Amongst many other services, reefs are a source of a quarter of the fish catch for most Pacific Island Countries, they provide protection from tropical cyclones and are important tourist attractions.
Coral reefs are acutely sensitive to changes in water temperature and acidity levels. The 2012 World Bank report ‘Turn down the heat’ warns that by the time warming levels reach 1.4oC in the 2030s, coral reefs may stop growing through the combination of thermally induced bleaching events, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise. And with 2.4oC, coral reefs in several areas may actually start to dissolve. This is likely to have profound consequences for people who depend on them for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection.
The Secretary-General’s report notes that the impacts of ocean acidification are irreversible on short, human-scale, time frames. This reality means that alongside achieving significant reductions in CO2 emissions, we must also find ways to build resilience. As the ability of most organisms to adapt to increased acidity is unknown, resilience needs to be built across the whole ecosystem. Ecosystem restoration can be achieved through a range of management tools, including the establishment of marine protected areas. As reiterated in The Future We Want, we must re-double our efforts to protect at least 10% of our marine and coastal areas by 2020.
Considering the ecosystem as a whole should also include consideration of all its stressors and their interrelated effects. As identified in the Secretary-General’s report, additional pressures on the oceans such as overfishing and pollution will only further amplify the impacts of ocean acidification on the marine environment. Amongst other management tools, marine protected areas can play an important role in reducing these pressures on the marine environment. Pacific Islands Forum members recognise the urgency of these issues and, through the Pacific Oceanscape framework, Forum members have led the world in the creation of marine protected areas.
As Large Ocean States facing the growing threat of ocean acidification, Pacific Islands Forum Members welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue within this year’s ICP.
Thank you, co-Chairs